il chiostro dello scalzo

There’s nothing Hannah and I love more than a creepy tomb, peculiar work of art, or good conspiracy theory. Considering we’ve already covered our favorite cemetery and the graves of some famous artists, you should be fair warned of our love for the slightly ghoulish.

Luckily Mannerist forerunner Andrea del Sarto also had an affinity for the off-kilter (just check out the harpies on the base of this Madonna). So when a group of barefoot-loving followers of St. John the Baptist came a-knockin’, he decided to help some brothers out. Between 1509 and 1526, he frescoed the cloister of the barefooted, il Chiostro dello Scalzo.

chiostro dello scalzo walking map

click for interactive map and enter your starting location

Distance: 800 m from city center (about .5 mile)
Time: 10 minutes
Cost: $0

To say that this is one of Florence’s hidden gems is an understatement. It is right on Via Cavour, just down the block from San Marco, a popular neighborhood for tourists and a short jaunt from city center. Yet few rarely set out to discover this quietly celebrated spot.

Chiostro dello Scalzo, Florence,  Tuscany, Italy

Doorway to the Chiostro on Via Cavour by Around Tuscany

Its low profile is partly due to its limited hours – Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8:15am – 1:50pm. At all other times, it looks like a very charming, very closed Renaissance doorway – of which Florence has more than a few. Passersby barely take note and move on.

Those who do seek it out, however, should prepare to be wowed. Even with free entry, the small room is often empty, and the guards on duty, grateful for company, often spill secrets about the surroundings.

inside chiostro dello scalzo from tuscanyarts on flickr

Inside the Chiostro dello Scalzo by TuscanyArts

Del Sarto frescoed the walls in a monochrome palette with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist (two of which were painted by his friend Franciabigio). They line what was the entrance to the confraternity chapel (whose door is now cemented shut at the room’s far end), encouraging members to contemplate the saint’s life as they came, gathered, and left.

beheading of st. john the baptist by evanscoxfamily on flickr

Detail, Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Evanscoxfamily

Del Sarto sure knew what he was doing. He managed to make figures look monumental, a nod to Michelangelo, yet remarkably human, à la Da Vinci, both of whom were del Sarto’s contemporaries. Note how he depicted the intensity and immediacy of St. John’s beheading without relying on color to evoke emotion (detailed photos of more scenes here).

Some things to remember. When del Sarto was painting, there was no loggia (and consequently no decorative skulls or crossbones). A quick look up at today’s glass ceiling confirms there was only a partial roof here for centuries (during which time the barefooters were told to put an egg in their imaginary shoes and beat it). The vaulted structure was built later to shield deteriorating frescoes from harmful environmental elements.

According to Tuscany Arts, the frescoes continued to suffer despite the added coverage, leading the Soprintendenza (Florence’s art-world overlords) to remove them for restoration around 1960. They weren’t returned and approved for public display until 2000, which in Florentine history might as well be last week. No wonder the space is so often forgotten!

Chiostro-dello-scalzo12 by TuscanyArts, on Flickr

Detail by TuscanyArts

Visitors should take advantage of its emptiness, because we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s here to uncover. And while we have high hopes of mediocre fame for this blog, low readership would be a small price to pay to keep this favorite place our special secret.

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6 comments

  1. Richard and Angie · · Reply

    Hi Hannah and Meg
    This is a great blog…Angie and I love it.
    Keep up the fantastic work,
    Richard in Wickenburg

  2. Lovely blog, ladies! Keep it going!!

  3. thank you friends for following along!

  4. thanks. We look forward to checking out il chiostro when we visit Firenze in Jan, and we’ll spread the word to anyone who may be interested about your blog, but we’ll let them find this post with a little effort on their own.

    1. thanks D 🙂 and thanks for your support! enjoy your trip!

  5. […] Il Chiostro dello Scalzo, Via Cavour 69: Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the slightly ajar door on Via Cavour just past Piazza San Marco. If you happen to stumble upon this pocket-sized cloister during opening hours, indulge in an off color artistic experience. […]

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